Early Use of the Insanity Plea in
The first attempted assassination of a United States President was Andrew Jackson. On January 30, 1835, Jackson had just finished attending a memorial service held in the Capitol building in Washington, DC. While walking across the rotunda, a man who seemed to come from nowhere, lurched in front of Jackson and fired a pistol at him. He was less than six feet away. Upon firing the gun, there was a loud explosion but the bullet misfired. The would-be assassin pulled out another pistol from his coat and fired again. The gun misfired again! By this time, a matter of seconds, several aides came to Jackson's rescue and were able to subdue the man. Later, upon checking the pistols at close range they both fired properly. What are the odds of both pistols misfiring when after the fact they both fired correctly?
The attempted assassin, Richard Lawrence, went to trial. The defense attorney attempted a "Not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity"
viewpoint. The prosecutor objected highly to this direction of the trial and argued against the plea. By law, since Lawrence was
found guiltily of attempted murder of a president, the sentence would have been death by hanging. The defense attorney pleaded with the jury to not hang his client, but have him committed to an asylum instead. Lawrence won as the jury voted in favor of committing Lawrence to an asylum for the rest of his life. It was this trial that set the legacy for a plea of not-guiltily-by-reason-of-insanity.
Oh, the prosecutor in this trial: Francis Scott Key of the Star Spangled Banner fame.